CRABS AND MERMAIDS juxtaposes two events related to Ai Weiwei’s practice in China. CRABS references “The Crab House,” a documentary Ai Weiwei produced about the forced demolition of his Shanghai studio by the Chinese authorities in 2011. Ai’s Zuoyou studio in Beijing was later also demolished in 2018. “Crab,” or he xie, is a homonym for “harmonious,” a euphemism for state censorship. MERMAIDS references an early work on the issue of surveillance, titled “Mermaid Exchange.” During the Shanghai EXPO in 2010, the Danish government relocated its famous statue of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen to its pavilion in Shanghai. In its place, Ai installed a screen that broadcast a livestream video of the statue in the Danish pavilion.
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It takes an enemy to make me a soldier. If I don’t have a great monster to fight, who am I?
- Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist (b. 1957)
Mermaid Exchange, 2009
The Crab House, 2015
Early in 2008, the district government of Jiading, Shanghai invited Ai Weiwei to build a studio in Malu Township, as a part of the local government’s efforts in developing its cultural assets. By August 2010, the Ai Weiwei Shanghai Studio completed all of its construction work. In October 2010, the Shanghai government declared the Ai Weiwei Shanghai Studio an illegal construction, and was subjected to demolition. On November 7, 2010, when Ai Weiwei was placed under house arrest by public security in Beijing, over 1,000 netizens attended the “River Crab Feast” at the Shanghai Studio. On January 11, 2011, the Shanghai city government forcibly demolished the Ai Weiwei Studio within a day, without any prior notice.